COVID outbreak identified at Boston elementary school

The Joseph P. Manning Elementary School, a Boston public school in Jamaica Plain, has confirmed 16 positive coronavirus cases in a school of 175 students. According to the most recent available data from the school district, this appears to be among the largest number of COVID-19 cases reported in a single BPS school so far this academic year.

One other school, Orchard Gardens, reported 17 positive cases in the first week of November and 28 total this year.

“It’s scary and awful and none of us have a roadmap for this,” said Marge Day, the parent of a 5th grader at Manning Elementary. While Day’s son told her someone in his class tested positive, he has not been identified as a close contact and has been able to keep going to school.

Day said it’s been frustrating to learn of an outbreak just before her son became eligible for the vaccine, which was authorized by federal regulators this week. Day’s son has an appointment to get the shot on Monday.

“It's like we've been on this 200-mile hike and we're in the last mile of it. And suddenly there's all this poison ivy in our path,” Day said. “The timing of this couldn't be worse.”

Still, Day had only praise for how Principal Lori Clements has handled the situation.

“She has just done such an amazing job shepherding us through this,” Day said, adding that she felt all of her questions had been answered. “She’s very, very accessible.”

Last Wednesday, Oct. 27, was the first time the school communicated with students and families to inform them of a positive coronavirus case. By Friday, the school learned there were more.

BPS does routine pool testing, in which a subset of the school community that consents to testing is given a swab, and their samples are pooled together. If there’s a positive result, then every individual’s sample is analyzed separately. Heading into the weekend, Manning staff learned that four pools contained positive tests.

On Friday night and over the Halloween weekend, Clements was at the school offering rapid tests to any family than wanted one.

On Monday, students in a positive pool were given a rapid test and a PCR test, which is more accurate but takes longer to process. That night, Clements confirmed that a total of 16 positive cases had been identified at the school between October 20th and November 1st.

The Boston Public Schools Office of Health Services and the Boston Public Health Commission stepped in to help conduct contact tracing, working to identify anyone who may have come into contact with a student or staff member who tested positive.

“Our Health Services team … advises anyone deemed a close contact on next steps, which could include test-and-stay if they are asymptomatic or having a test administered and quarantining if they are symptomatic,” the Boston Public Schools said in written a statement.

It was not immediately clear how many — if any — positive cases have been identified outside of the student body and school staff that may be related to the outbreak.

The school is planning to hold a virtual meeting for members of the school community on Saturday to address questions about the recent coronavirus cases.

WBUR's Carrie Jung contributed reporting for this story.

This post has been updated to reflect that Wednesday, October 27, was the date of the school's first communication with families about the outbreak. It has also been updated to reflect new data released Nov. 4.

This article was originally published on November 03, 2021.


Gabrielle Emanuel Senior Health and Science Reporter
Gabrielle Emanuel is a senior health and science reporter for WBUR.



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